The underlying principles in safety of navigation on the high seas and waterways of the world are laid down in the “International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972” (COLREG)
The Rules were adopted as a Convention of the International Maritime Organization in October 1972 and entered into force in July 1977. They were designed to update and replace the Collision Regulations of 1960, particularly with regard to Traffic Separation Schemes (TSS) following the first of these, introduced in the Strait of Dover in 1967. Of necessity, they have been amended several times since their first adoption.
Each country that is a member of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) designates an “Administration” or federal authority or agency for implementing the provisions of the COLREG convention as it applies to vessels over which the federal authority has jurisdiction. In other words, the IMO convention including the almost four dozen “rules” contained in the international regulations is adopted by each member country signatory to the convention. Each national or federal administration is responsible for the implementation and enforcement of the regulations as it applies to ships and vessels over which it has legal authority. For example, Transport Canada regulates Canadian vessels and the United States Coastguard regulates U.S. flagged vessels. In effect, there is a set of national navigation laws (regulations) which conform to the international convention. Each administration is empowered to enact modifications that apply to vessels in waters under the national jurisdiction concerned, provided that any such modifications remain consistent with the COLREGs.
Ship’s officers are examined in detail at each stage of their career for continued proficiency in understanding and application of the COLREGS.
The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (or STCW), 1978 sets qualification standards for masters, officers and watch personnel on seagoing merchant ships. STCW was adopted in 1978 by conference at the International Maritime Organization(IMO) in London, and entered into force in 1984. The Convention was significantly amended in 1995.
Bridge watches officers are normally stood at four hour intervals and shared by three fully qualified officers. For example, a Chief Officer normally stands the watch from 04:00 – 08:00 and 16:00 – 20:00. The Master of a ship is always on the bridge during port arrival and departure, during periods of close navigation or heavy traffic, and readily available should the watch keeping officer require assistance at other times. The 1978 STCW Convention was the first to establish basic requirements on training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers on an international level. Previously the standards of training, certification and watch keeping of officers and ratings were established by individual governments, usually without reference to practices in other countries. As a result standards and procedures varied widely, even though shipping is extremely international of nature. The Convention prescribes minimum standards relating to training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers which countries are obliged to meet or exceed.